January 31, 2019
To the holy (and wholly) beloveds of Galileo Church,
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Mother-Father and our Messiah Jesus. I hope this letter finds you dwelling in the peace and power of God’s own Spirit, confident and comfortable in your own image-of-God self.
It’s the end of January, and this month has been filled with conversations of the “What comes next?” kind. Our Missional Logistics Team and Spiritual Care Team carved out significant time to rise up to the meta-level and ask the big questions: Why does Galileo Church exist, still, and what does that say about what comes next? What is God calling us away from, and toward, for the year to come?
The Why of Galileo, and What’s In the Arrow
We’ve got a terrific mission statement, the one about “seeking and sheltering spiritual refugees.” We’re still doing that with eager energy. And when we ask each other, “Why are youpart of Galileo and its collective mission to seek and shelter spiritual refugees?” the answers go deep.
“Because I was a spiritual refugee, and I needed to be shaken from my certainty about what – and who – God wants and doesn’t want.”
“Because I don’t want to raise my kids to hate church and be anxious about God’s judgment.”
“Because this church gives me hope, and hope is scarce these days.”
“Because I don’t want to take for granted that this community will always be here. I’m committed to help it keep going.”
“Because what’s happening here is so fucking beautiful.”
One thing that comes up a lot is that Galileo Church feels rare. It’s rare to find a community that welcomes every person’s whole self as an intentional echo of Jesus’s ministry to (and affinity for) those who have traditionally been excluded. It’s rare to find a community that is so safe and brave for many who feel endangered in other environs. It’s rare to feel so connected to people you’ve just met, but who somehow know you better than anyone else. It’s precious, because it’s rare. And therefore beautiful. And therefore special, valuable, worthwhile, beloved…
But there’s another thing we say, too, which is that we wish it were not so rare.We wish that everybody knew that God’s love (not God’s judgment or disapproval) is the engine that powers the universe. We wish that everybody who wants one could have a community of belonging in Jesus’s name. We wish that every church could see how to open their heart, and their structure, to the ones who have been left out or kicked out. We wish this kind of Christian community and practice could be normalized– the opposite of rare!
If you were drawing it, it would look like this, maybe:
rare/special/beautiful —-> normalized/available/beautiful
(Yeah, I made that in Word. You can pretend to be impressed when you see me.)
And if that’s what we think God wants, too – indeed, that our very desires are being shaped by God’s Spirit that inhabits us – then we need to figure out what goes inside the arrow. Like, what’s the work? What’s needed for Galileo Church to move from rare to normalized?
But before we get into that arrow, consider two important questions raised by our church leaders: (1) Are we creating safe space, or are we changing the world? Is it even possible to do both?Because world-changing work is not inherently safe, as Jesus found out. And (2) What about the intimacy of relationship that we enjoy, which is integral to our experience of safety and love? If we lose that intimacy, haven’t we lost a big part of our identity? You could redraw my fabulous graphic like this:
rare / safe / intimate —-> normalized / less safe / less intimate
So it seems to our church leaders that the content of the arrow – the nature of our movement from “rare” to “normalized” – is twofold. One thing is, for the rare thing to become normalized, we have to be even more intentionally invitationalthan ever. We have to do church in public, demonstrating by our life together how lovely it is when God’s own love gets ahold of us. We have to ask people (beloveds, neighbors, strangers, enemies) to take a look, “Come and see,” give us a chance to demonstrate what’s possible with the Spirit of the living Christ among us.
Second thing: at the same exact time, as the rare thing becomes invitational,we have to tend more carefully than ever to our relational infrastructure. We have to apply our energies to shoring up what’s working to make us stronger together, and let go anything that’s not. I like to think of this as serving the healthof the church. Rather than broken or dysfunctional stuff getting all our attention (and time and money and whatever), we let broken and dysfunctional stuff go and serve the health.I’ll say more about what that looks like below.
Take a minute and think about the “why” of your engagement with Galileo Church. How does the movement from “rare” to “normalized” make you feel? What thoughts/questions/objections/enthusiasms are rising up?
For 2019, the Missional Logistics Team Has 3 Big Ideas About Being Invitational
Yep, three. On the road from “rare” to “normalized,” we think 3 things will move us along. Remember, the MLT works consistently on our Missional Priorities, of which we have four:
We do justice for LGBTQ+ people.
We do kindness for people with mental illness, or in emotional distress; and we celebrate neurodiversity.
We do beauty for our God-Who-Is-Beautiful.
We do real relationship, no bullshit, ever.
Thing One: Let’s expand Missional Priority #1 to reflect a new understanding.
-- Let’s expand #1 to read, “We do justice for LGBTQ+ people, and support the people who love them.” We know that many people end up at Galileo because their kid, or their spouse, or their cousin, or their friend is on the queer rainbow. We’re doing a good job supporting those folks, and turning them into strong allies. Way to go, church!
Thing Two: Let’s be more intentional about Missional Priority #2.
-- Let’s invite neurodiverse people in our church to help us be more intentional about the kindness we do. The MLT and pastoral staff need input and education. We’re ready to learn from people for whom “celebrating neurodiversity” is an important part of being with Galileo Church.
-- We’ll seek understanding through public meetings, private conversations, written statements, artwork – whatever works best for your lovely, quirky brain to share yourself with us. We’ll announce an initial gathering soon (this winter/spring), and that’ll be your cue to share away.
Thing Three: Let’s ADD a 5th Missional Priority! Yeah, we can do that.
-- Let’s announce very deliberately that this is the year we begin to turn our church inside-out, from focusing on what happens among the people who are already here to sharing all that we’ve got with people who are not here yet. Let’s become invitationalin nature – not just individually, but as an inside-out community.
-- The wording we like goes, “We do whatever it takes to share this good news with the world God still loves.” We hope you like it, too, and that you’ll find it as compelling as the first four missional priorities have been for several years.
-- And then, let’s explore new territory by live-broadcasting our worship services online every Sunday.I KNOW. That’s not like anything we’ve ever done before. It’s not something I imagined I would ever want to do. But when our church leaders sat together and reflected on how lonely and unloved we felt beforethe gospel according to Galileo, and how healthy and hopeful we feel afterthe gospel according to Galileo, it seems absurd and maybe even mean to keep it to ourselves. I keep reminding myself, church leaders hated Gutenberg’s printing press half a millennium ago – new technology felt unsafe for the church they loved. But here we are, half a millennium later – and some church leaders (me, mainly!) still feel threatened by new technology. Maybe…we should learn from experience we’ve gained in half a millennium? Imagine the possibilities…
-- Imagine: What if a handful of people in Denton, or West Fort Worth, or North Dallas, could get together locally and watch Galileo’s worship together? What if we could send an ambassador from our place to their “watch party” on Sunday evening with a little box of communion and prayer cards for the wall and stuff for the reflection station? What if farflung strangers could worship and experience this rare, beautiful, lifesaving gospel along with us,without having to traverse the whole damn metroplex?
-- Imagine: What if churches in other places that want to be inclusive but don’t know how could learn by watching us?
-- Imagine: What if Andrea G, at home with her foot in a cast, or Kim, at the hospital with her sick mom, never had to miss another cello Sunday? or any Sunday?
-- Imagine: What if LGBTQ+ Christians (and the people who love them) in rural places, or small towns, or other places where this gospel is not available, could find hope online with us?
-- Imagine: What if people whose mental illness or emotional distress truly keeps them from participating in community could find companionship with us, without the toxic side effects of crowds?
-- Imagine: What if, in God’s good time, several “watch parties” consolidated into “Galileo 2”? We would not be planting a new church from scratch (#tbtGod), but instead letting worship drive new relationships, and relationships drive new infrastructure for which Galileo could provide staff, structure, experience, and financial help. I’m tired of meeting people who would loveto have what we have, but can’t get all the way to the BRB, and just saying, “I’m so sorry.” I want to say something else, something hopeful, something invitational. Don’t you?
-- We understand there are dangers and downsides… and that’s why we’ll be moving slowly, with a team of people dedicated to thinking through every contingency the best we can… and alerting the whole church every time we take steps toward public broadcast. Yes, we’ve thought about protecting every worshiper’s privacy. We’ve considered the financial cost. We’re working on copyright issues. We’re aware that there are relational complications, like, in what sense are we pastorally responsible for people who watch us online? and how do we do “real relationship, no bullshit, ever” across the worldwide web? We’re praying and thinking, thinking and praying. We’d be happy for you to think and pray alongside us, for real.
For 2019, the Spiritual Care Team Has 3 Big Ideas About Serving the Health
Yep, three. Imagine that. Remember that the SCT is responsible for the shepherding and spiritual care of Galileo Church’s people. Toward that end, they keep watch over G-groups of all kinds, from living room Bible studies to Dungeons & Dragons adventures.
Thing One: Let’s celebrate and shore up the health of our covenantal G-groups.
-- We have more and more people interested in covenantal G-groups – the ones that meet for 10 weeks at a time, with more or less stable membership, to share life and deepen discipleship of Jesus. This system has never been healthier, and we want it to be more so.
-- We’re deploying moito help each G-group function at its peak. I’ll be coming around to lead each group through “Listening Is an Act of Love” this spring, to help all of us think about how we… well, how we love each other by listening. J
-- We’re training more facilitators and conveners, and granting Sabbath time to all who ask for it, so that responsibility for these groups is widely shared and we don’t wear people out.
Thing Two: Let’s let go of groups or events that are using up people’s energy disproportionately to the group’s attendance.
-- There, I said it. Some of our “open” G-groups (where all are invited and only the leaders are explicitly committed to attend) have been poorly attended, some of them for a long time. We need to let some of our very gifted facilitators off the hook for keeping those meetings going.
-- Specifically, we’re letting go of Thrive (for LGBTQ+ young adults), Welcome to My Brain (for people with mental health diagnoses), and God-Parenting-Support (for parents whose kids have come out). We have loved allthese groups, and are indebted to their leaders (thanks again, Brandi and Deanne, Hannah and Eleanor, Jeana and Melina!). We’re quite sure those groups served their purpose at the time they were developed, and that many people have been helped through them.
-- We think the attendance at those groups went downas attendance at our strong covenantal G-groups went up. People are finding supportive friends around dinner tables and Bible study. Because that’s working, people have less need for the specified support groups.
-- We also know that people who need specific kinds of support are asking Spiritual Care Team members, and myself, who they can talk to. We’re doing a good job of connecting people for commiseration or empowerment or a listening ear. If you need connection like that, pleaseask. It’s one of our best things.
Thing Three: Let’s reinvent some things we’ve done for a long time to see if we can make them better. Specifically:
-- Let’s reinvent Bible & Beer as a once-a-month celebration, at a bar, with Bible-reading friends. The first Tuesday of the month sounds good to us, 7-9 pm at Torchy’s in the Highlands. For some of us, B&B is a dear habit that we love; but once a month will scratch our itch. And maybe more people will come if it’s a rare opportunity. And oh, that queso. J#firsttime: Tuesday, Feb. 5.
-- Let’s reinvent G-Coffeeby bringing it to the Big Red Barn, 3-4:30 pm each Sunday. We’re making a coffee station in the Quiet Room. A Spiritual Care Team member will be present each week just to listen and connect people. It’ll be simple, no frills, but everything you need for caffeinated companionship. And easier to find. #firsttime: Sunday, Feb. 10.
-- Let’s reinvent going out to dinner together after worship by having occasional dinners at the Big Red Barn. Instead of pretending that “the whole church” can go to a restaurant every Sunday (which hasn’t been true for a long time), let’s make dinner available at the BRB once in a while. We know the whole church won’t stay, and that’s okay. We want to provide a leisurely opportunity for people to hang out, play board games, eat and drink. We’re thinking of calling it “Second Sunday Scruffy Supper,” or S4. (S4 – get it? Come on, that’s funny.) Only a few people will bring food – crockpot soup? chili? sandwiches? pizza? – and anyone who wants to stay can stay, and help with a quick setup and cleanup. #firsttime: Sunday, March 10.
Look, We Know This Is a Lot.
We’re committed to communicating and re-communicating these things till we’re blue in the face. Because it all feels important, and because our church leaders aren’t really interested in dragging the church somewhere it doesn’t want to go. In worship on Sunday 2/3, I’ll talk through this stuff and we’ll sing about going where God calls us. The MLT, the SCT, and the pastoral staff hope that we’ll have a generous consensus around these Big Ideas, and that we’ll be ready to move together into God’s beautiful future.
It’s a turning point, y’all. I have a feeling that someday we’ll be saying, “And then, in 2019, you just would not believe what God had in mind…” I feel so ready to see it unfold. Get impatient with me, okay?
And may God add God’s blessing to our idea-having, plan-making, future-leaning work. Thanks be to God for a church that is more curious about the future than nostalgic about the past. Thanks be to God for you!
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!(Psalm 90:17)
peace – Katie H, lead evangelist